Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sprout, Rod, Thing of Nature: Naming the Gift of Aaron

1831 version of D&C 8
This past weekend I (Clair Barrus) had the opportunity to present a paper on Oliver Cowdery's rod at the Mormon History Association conference in St. George.  I've divided my presentation into two posts:
  1. Evidence that the various titles for Oliver Cowdery's rod ("the sprout" / "the rod" / "thing of nature" / "rod of Nature" / "the gift of Aaron.") in earlier versions of  D&C 8 were related to divining rods. This section was to address Michael Quinn's critique an of an earlier paper that the title "sprout" was likely not derived from non-KJV biblical texts discussing Aaron's "sprouted" rod as I had proposed, but from a magic/treasure seeking context.
  2. Parallels regarding the concept of restoration / translation of scripture between Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and the Royal Arch Masonic ritual.
Note: the various texts of the "Rod of Nature" revelation can be compared here.

On April 5th, 1829 Oliver Cowdery met Joseph Smith, and began recording dictations on April 7th as Joseph Smith translated the gold plates through his seerstone. Oliver had a rod in his possession through which he had been receiving revelations [D&C 8:6,12] and later that month, Joseph Smith received revelations through his seerstone related to Cowdery's rod and his desire to become a translator.

D&C 6 tells of a gift that Oliver already has. [D&C 6:10-14]  Parallels to D&C 8 indicate this gift in D&C 6 is the gift of the rod.1  Through it he will do "marvelous works" and he is to "exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries." God grants Oliver a new gift, the gift of translation, through which he will "assist in bringing to light, with your gift, those parts of my scriptures which have been hidden." [D&C 6:25-29]

D&C 8 again describes Oliver's two gifts; first a knowledge of ancient records to be received by Oliver through the spirit of revelation. [D&C 8:1-5] The second is that of "working with the sprout" or rod. Only God causes it to "work in your hands." It has already told Oliver "many things" and whatever Oliver asks, the rod will "grant to know." He is to "not ask for that which ye had not ought," but ask to "know the mysteries of God & that ye may Translate all those ancient Records" that have been "hid up."  [JSP, BOC 7:3-5, D&C 8:6-12]

Oliver is granted the gift to translate "even as my servant Joseph." Even though they have not yet received the priesthood, both Joseph and Oliver are given "keys" of translation.  [D&C 6:25,28]

D&C 9 discusses Oliver failure to translate because of fear and a misunderstanding of the procedure, but says he will be able to translate later.

Textual history of D&C 8

D&C 8 has a rich textual history. The four extant versions of the this revelation are as follows:
1- The text of what the Joseph Smith Papers editors titled "April 1829-B" from A Book of Commandments & Revelations2 as recorded by John Whitmer, copied sometime between the spring and the end of 1831.3
2 - Edited text of "April 1829-B" which are handwritten modifications to the original text by John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon and an unidentified scribe.  Most of the changes were by Sidney Rigdon, probably in November 1831.4
3 - The Book of Commandments, Chapter 7, published in 1833.
4 - Doctrine & Covenants, Section XXXIV, 1835 (hereafter referred to as D&C 8).5
Oliver's "gift" is given several titles through the different versions of D&C 8: "the sprout" / "the rod" / "thing of nature" / "rod of Nature" / "the gift of Aaron." A look at other uses of these titles from the 18th and early 19th centuries suggests these terms are related to divining rods.

Rod of Nature

One author describes "natural rod" as the physical rod owned by Moses which symbolizes spiritual aspects of the rod. "… the law of Moses is a spiritual rod, and the natural rod that he bore was an emblem or symbol of the law. Hence analogy, which measures both spirituals and temporals, and compares them together."
Elsewhere, "Nature's rod" is portrayed as an idolatrous treasure seeking rod as this 1812 Irish poem denotes.
See yonder woods their treasur'd vaults unfold!
Where cavern'd miners toil for tempting gold,
Who from the deep emit rich mineral ore,
And crown'd with plenty, labour still for more. …
The world's idolaters — tam'd Nature's rod
Who cringe to Man, regardless of their God.
Who hunt out gold, as tigers hunt their prey
promise, to break, and flatter, to betray.

Thing of Nature

The title "thing of nature" could be related to the phrase "hidden things of nature" which was used to contrast unknown aspects of the natural world against the spiritual world, including divining rods. Lord Bacon said it is OK to explore "the hidden things of nature," but don't be fooled by "the divining rod, which they think is highly serviceable to religion".

An authoritative Bible dictionary from the early 19th century defined "rod" as also meaning "wand." Joseph Smith's Uncle Jessee also equated "wand" to "rod" when condemning Joseph Smith Sr.'s use of a rod in 1829." "Thing of nature" and "rod of nature" could be related to "wand of nature." One author refers to a magician's "wand of nature" in reference a nameless "apparition" from the land of spirits, which rises and descends due to a "spell-muttering crew. Treasure seeking with rods often included rituals to control spirits who guarded buried treasure.


That same bible dictionary defines "rod" as also meaning "sprout." A 1693 book on the divining rod also equates a divining rod with the word "sprout." "They take a long sprout of hazel … and when they pass over a water source, the rod turns and the arc twists toward the ground."

An 1826 convention 45 miles from Joseph Smith's home published an expose of Royal Arch Masonry, which equates "sprout" with the Rod of Aaron. A High Priest takes "a bit of an apple tree sprout, a few inches long, with some withered buds upon it, or a stick of a similar length with some artificial buds upon it, which, after consulting with the King and Scribe, he pronounces Aaron's rod."

Rod of Aaron

"Rod of Aaron" has been used since at least the 1700s to describe divining rods. Stephen Davis ("The Old Rodsman") lived in Palmyra, NY in 1813 a few years before the Smith family arrived. An account of his treasure seeking activities states:
From the earliest ages there has been an implicit belief in the powers and virtues of the Divining Rod — either for the discovery of water, mines, or hidden treasures. This belief, it would seem, has originated from the wonderful powers of the miraculous rod in the hands of Moses and Aaron, imparted to it by the Almighty."The United States Democratic review, "

Gift of Aaron

The phrase "gift of Aaron" does not exist in common Old Testament translations based on Masoretic Hebrew texts. However the Septuagint uses the phrase when speaking of the anointing of Aaron to the priesthood, "Moreover the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, This is the gift of Aaron and his sons, which they shall offer to the Lord, on the day when thou shalt anoint him." [Lev 6:19-20] Some evidence suggests Joseph Smith had access to the Septuagint.7

It seems evident from 18th and 19th century historical use of the terms "rod," "sprout," "hidden things of nature," "nature's rod," "natural rod" and "rod of Aaron" that the various titles of Oliver's gift point to the divining rod commonly used in treasure seeking. Like the revelations' discussion of Oliver's gift, "hidden things of nature" implies a natural and spiritual component. D&C 6 and 8 caution Cowdery to use his gift properly. Perhaps instead of seeking for buried riches and treasure, he is instead to seek after spiritual riches and treasures. "Seek not for riches but for wisdom." "[D]esire to lay up treasures for yourself in heaven." [D&C 6:7, 27]

While "Rod of Aaron" is not used in the text of the revelation, a reasonable implication can be made that Oliver had a (or the) Rod of Aaron in that the various titles of his gift are tied to divining rods, that "Rod of Aaron" was also a title for divining rods, and that the final title of his gift is "gift of Aaron." Note also that Oliver's gift of the rod is the topic of these verses and that the final title's use of "gift" is redundant. A variant reading could be that Oliver's gift (rod) is "of Aaron."

Smith and Cowdery Family Background

The Smith family was typical of many who were involved in early 19th century treasure seeking.  They and others used an instrument such as a rod or seerstone to locate treasure and a ritual to obtain the treasure from the spirit who guarded it.

Joseph Smith Sr. (father of Joseph Smith) had started searching for water and later for lost cattle and hidden treasure with a divining rod shortly after his relocation to Palmyra. Joseph Smith followed his father's example and also began using a rod which was later superseded by seerstones.

William Cowdery Jr. (father of Oliver Cowdery) was likely part of the "Rod Scrape" or  "Wood Scrape" incident. After spending the winter with William Cowdery, a seer named Winchell joined Nathaniel Wood's "New Israelite" movement.

When searching for treasure, "Winchell held up his rod, got some motion from it, and told them the money was in an iron chest and covered with a large stone ... there was a 'divinity' guarding the treasure, and that if there was any lack of faith in any one ... this divinity would put the money forever beyond their reach.

However Winchell added a new dimension to the use of the rod when he taught Nathaniel Wood how to use it to receive revelations." Each of Wood's "Fraternity of Rodsmen" also had "a rod, which was used whenever they desired any information" including determining Israelite lineage through their rods.

Wood believed the gathering of Israel would occur not in Jerusalem, but in America and they planned to build a "New Jerusalem."  They followed a religious dietary code, realized a need for angelic ministry, believed in an angelic tongue, looked for a restoration of primitive Christianity exercised spiritual gifts, and Wood received a revelation through his rod directing the building of a temple.

Oliver Cowdery's father was not only a likely participant in this movement, but lived with the man who introduced the concept of using a rod to receive revelations to the New Israelites.



1 Smith, Joseph. The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Containing Revelations given to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, with Some Additions by His Successors in the Presidency of the Church. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976 (hereafter D&C).  The Joseph Smith Papers Revelations and Translations Manuscript Revelation Books. Church Historian's Pr, 2011, April 1829B (hereafter JSP).  Smith, Joseph. A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ: Organized According to Law, on the 6th of April, 1830. Zion: Published by W.W. Phelps &, 1833 (hereafter BOC). Compare D&C 6:10 to JSP, D&C 8:7; D&C 6:11 to D&C 8:11, BOC 7:3 and D&C 8:5; D&C 6:12 to 8:10.
2 A Book of Commandments & Revelations (also called "Revelations Book 1" by the editors) is the first of two books published as part of JSP.
3 JSP, 5
4 JSP, 5-7.  Michael Marquardt suggests Rigdon would also have had opportunity to edit the revelation in April 1832.
5 Smith, Joseph, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, comps. Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected from the Revelations of God. Kirtland, Ohio: F. G. Williams &, 1835, Section XXXIV.  Originally published in 1835 I will hereafter refer to the LDS 1979 version (D&C), section 8 which is textually the same as the 1835 ed.
6 The United States Democratic review, "A history of the Divining Rod; with the Adventures of an Old Rodsman," Volume 26, 1850, p. 218. Brooke, John L. The Refiner's Fire: the Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844.  Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994, p. 53 n. 75.
7 An English version of the Septuagint was available in the U.S. as early as 1808. Joseph Smith acquired a number of texts related to his strong interesting in Biblical translation. Some translated text by Joseph Smith seems dependent on the Septuagint.  See Barlow, Philip L. Mormons and the Bible: the Place of the Latter-Day Saints in American Religion. New York: Oxford UP, 1991, p. 30.


1 comment:

Corey Strange said...

Great information. I've used this quite a few times as a reference and furthering my own spiritual progress. Blessings to you.